Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
“Too often when we think of the Holocaust, we only think of Auschwitz,” the sign at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow read. After visiting both Auschwitz and Birkenau yesterday, I was at first taken aback by this quote. How can one not think about Auschwitz and all of the horrors and crimes committed there? About the men, women, and children who tragically fell victim to Hitler’s Nazi regime in this place of evil? About the suitcases and shoes and clothes of lives cut too short, too quickly? Nevertheless, as I moved throughout the exhibit, I soon realized how this quote rang true and the significance it has to the rest of our trip spent here in Eastern Europe.
On the walls of the museum were pictures of various Nazi death camps, former ghettoes, and mass graves across the previously occupied territories. Some included photos of the former Krakow ghetto, the Jewish quarters of Krakow, and the Plaszów concentration camp, three distinctive and important locations that we all had the chance to visit today and in seeing, really helped put this entire trip and the Holocaust itself into perspective for us. As the quote from the museum reminds us, sometimes we do neglect to only think of Auschwitz, the train tracks and the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate when we think of the Holocaust. We sometimes forget that even on the ground we stood on in Krakow, the lives of too many individuals were stripped away by the Nazis or that on the grassy hills of what was once Plaszów, the remains of thousands of forced laborers lie scattered eternally. Similarly, though it may be difficult to imagine, these are lives of those who once thrived in Krakow, worshipping in the synagogues and shopping in the markets we visited this afternoon.
As we travel to Lublin this evening to visit Majdanek tomorrow, each of us are filled with something new to consider and some food for thought after exploring both the museum and the Old Town of Krakow today. It’s almost like a sense of closure, as if everything is coming full circle on this trip and our perspectives begin to broaden, something that I’m sure we’ll be grateful for the tough day that will be tomorrow.
On a lighter note, we all had a great time exploring the Krakow Old Town today, trying all of the delicious traditional Polish food and bargaining in the markets. Of the many gifts purchased, some favorites include all types of amber jewelry, embroidered bags, and of course the touristy “I love Poland” shirts! We also got to do some amazing sight seeing at the Krakow castle and at various churches across the square. Krakow definitely did not disappoint.